By Dave Gorman

JUST two months after a historic Paris Climate Summit that saw worldwide recognition of humanity’s need to keep global warming below 2°C, a new record has been set: February 2016 was earth’s hottest month since modern records began.

The International Panel of Climate Change’s (IPCC) latest report indicates that human emissions are extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of observed global warming since the mid-20th century. It’s a concern I share with my colleagues across Edinburgh University and across the world.

Climate change is undoubtedly one of the world’s greatest challenges. So, what are we doing about it?

As one of the UK’s top universities, the University of Edinburgh takes its impact on the environment very seriously, from the teaching and research that we do, to how we run the university sustainably and on to the investments that we make.

That last aspect – our finances – have received a lot of attention over the last year. It’s this topic that I’m looking forward to grappling with today at the Edinburgh International Science Festival.

A number of critics have said that a top university like Edinburgh should use its influence to change the world, and that the best way to do this is to divest from fossil fuels and armaments. In this first aspect, at least, we agree.

In 2015 the university signalled its intention to use its investments and procurement leverage to support the transition to a low carbon economy. This included selling stocks worth £2.5 million in order to divest from coal and tar sands companies and committing to exploring further means to reduce the carbon footprint of our investments. Unlike others who added conditions and long timescales to similar decisions, we divested within months. There were no unrealistic promises.

Since then, an external review of our investments shows that exposure to fossil fuels in the university’s direct investments has halved since 2013, and fallen by almost 90 per cent since 2008. We also maintain an exclusion list based on the well-recognised Fossil Fuel Index for coal and tar sands.

In December 2015, the university completed the transfer to the Global Alpha Fund Choice, which means that we no longer directly invest in armaments, tobacco, gambling and pornography.

There’s still some genuinely felt differences here, but we have adopted an approach which we feel allows switch and appropriate action. The university wanted to reduce the carbon footprint of its investments, choosing a focused evidence-based approach in preference to untargeted and unproven divestment.

We recognised the potential risk of climate change to investments – the so-called stranded assets argument – often put forth by divestment campaigners. Following our 2014 consultation, we have worked with our professional advisers Mercer to review the degree of exposure of our endowment fund to climate change. They conclude that our portfolio is significantly better placed to adjust to climate risks than the industry average.

But of course, the work the university does to tackle climate change goes way beyond our investments. The university has brought in research funding worth an estimated £50 million in the last seven years on climate science, emissions mitigation and adaption research, and spent £20 million on low carbon energy solutions on our campuses, reducing the university’s carbon emissions by almost 10,000 tonnes annually. We announced another £11m funding for low carbon energy this week.

The university is also home to several centres of energy and climate expertise, undertakes ground-breaking research into renewable energy and provides innovative programmes of teaching in carbon management, meaning one of our greatest assets – our students – get to learn about, and shape, sustainable alternatives and solutions to climate change.

The threat of climate change is very real for all of us. As an institution we are committed to making a difference in dealing with global challenges; to reviewing the evidence and identifying what we can do to make a difference according to our values, and then taking action swiftly and effectively. We reject simplistic solutions in favour of longer-term, effective action and we urge others to join us in this approach.

Dave Gorman is Director of Social Responsibility and Sustainability at the University of Edinburgh